‘Remember what we all pay for the MBTA’: U.S. Rep. Richard Neal reacts to east-west rail cost estimates
SPRINGFIELD — U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, who has called east-west passenger rail in Massachusetts a priority and has begun laying the groundwork for federal funding, has a message for folks experiencing sticker shock over estimates that put the cost in the billions.
“Remember what we all pay for the MBTA system in Boston, which is now calling for a multibillion-dollar program of improvement and infrastructure,” Neal, D-Springfield, said Thursday from his office in Washington. “Think of South Coast Rail. Think of improving the Green Line. Part of our job here is to compare and contrast.”
State officials on Thursday released six cost estimates for passenger rail service between Boston, Worcester, Springfield and Pittsfield. On the low end was a roughly $2 billion estimate to add new train service from Springfield to Worcester, as well as several bus connections. On the high end: $25 billion for a fully electrified high-speed rail line running parallel to the Massachusetts Turnpike.
"The last big investment in east-west strikes me as having been the Turnpike," Neal said.
Neal, chairman of the powerful House Ways & Means Committee, has already said an east-west rail project is a priority in the five-year, $760-billion federal infrastructure package he and his fellow Democrats introduced in the House last month.
He was briefed by Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack earlier this week, prior to a Springfield meeting Thursday when the new cost estimates, and ridership numbers, were revealed to the public.
“I also think there is a chance to let some of what was released today marinate. Let people get an idea of what it would mean, and also what it would cost,” Neal said.
Pollack told reporters Thursday that any east-west rail project would need an infusion of federal cash.
Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno echoed her perspective, calling a federal partnership “key” to the project."
“I know the state can pick up some," Sarno said. "But we need the federal government . Let’s see some bipartisanship in Washington.”
But can there be bipartisanship given that Neal, a close ally of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, backed the impeachment of President Donald J. Trump and is locked in a federal court battle over Trump’s refusal to release his taxes.
Neal said no one can pretend his relationship with the president is “warm and fuzzy”.
But Neal said he has a respectful business relationship with members of Trump’s cabinet. He’ll meet Friday with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to discuss transportation and infrastructure spending.
“So, I think it was Donald Trump who promised an infrastructure bill for the American People — and it was President Trump who volunteered a $2-trillion figure,” Neal said.